For three months in 1980, prior to the eruption, the ground beneath her will tremble ten thousand quakes in seven weeks. A crater will yawn in her mouth, growing at a rate of six feet per day. Though geologists and biologists recognize the signs, they will ignore them. When at last Loowit succumbs to the pressure, the avalanche preceding the blast will splash water 850 feet high, temperatures will reach one thousand degrees, and the mountain top will slide off, belching 500 million cubic yards of rock in one of the largest volcanic explosions in North American history.
Two hundred miles away in Sunnyside, we will sit open mouthed, watching thick white smoke against a blackened crater on the television screen. We will hear the stunned reports of journalists and rescue workers. "It doesn't even look like the same country!" they will exclaim. "I can't find any landmarks. It doesn't look like any place I've ever been before."
The Lady of Fire will create an entirely new country. Before the explosion, Sunnyside is so dry that when it rains, school closes. My mother tells me tales of the west, just over the Cascade mountains, where there are cities and water, people who read. When Loowit blows, the largest landslide in recorded history will level 230 square miles of forest in three minutes, wiping out entire populations of elk, deer, bear, and coyote. Glistening Spirit Lake, where my cousin Heidi and I crest through snow thaw, will become a bowl of mud. The silvery ash will drift in a fifteen-mile-high column all the way here to southeastern Washington. By noon, ash is falling in Idaho. In two weeks, it will circle the globe. After that, rain seems normal and school is never canceled.